On the recruiting trail, Billy Napier preaches patient approach to first UF signing period

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
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Typically, when a program makes a mid-season coaching change, the expectation is they’ll hit the ground running on the recruiting trail.

Previous UF football coach Dan Mullen did as much when he arrived at Florida by way of Mississippi State, and the Gators signed several prospects during the Early Signing Period who ended up proving critical to the team’s success during his tenure. 

Billy Napier, Florida’s newly hired head coach, has a different plan in mind, however. 

At his introductory news conference Sunday, Napier laid out his plan of action for his first 60 days on the job, saying he’ll prioritize the evaluation process and filling out the coaching staff rather than be fixated on rebuilding UF’s recruiting class before Dec. 15, when the Early Signing Period begins. 

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“I think our approach here, we're going to be very patient. I think I know everybody wants to pedal to the metal here and go a hundred miles an hour. But I think it's the most important thing that we do, I think, the people we get into the building, the staff, the players,” Napier said. “So we're going to evaluate the situation a little bit this week over the next 10 days or so. But you can expect us to be very conservative, very patient, trying to position ourselves for post-signing day to evaluate all the players that are left over, all the players in the transfer portal.”

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If that wasn’t clear enough, Napier asserted his focus will be on the traditional Signing Day held on the first Wednesday in February rather than the imminently approaching opportunity to sign rising freshmen. Rather than try and do a rush job to give the semblance of progress, Napier would prefer his coaching staff to have thoroughly evaluated the remaining talent before anyone puts pen to paper. 

New Florida head football coach Billy Napier hit the recruiting trail on his first full day on the job Monday.

“Then when we do have our entire staff and organization put together, position ourselves for some really strong weekends in January, and then try to close strong in February,” he said. “But reality is you're getting in the game and there's like three minutes left in the fourth quarter. And I think the last thing we need to do here is make some mistakes. So we'll probably — I wouldn't be surprised if we don't sign many at all. But there may be a few out there that are willing to jump in here in the last minute.”

Florida recruiting staff visits Trevor Etienne, TreVonte Citizen in Louisiana

Though he may not be jumping to sign any players next week, Napier has immediately begun the evaluation process. Napier, along with newly hired running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, traveled back to Louisiana on Monday to visit several prospects, including highly ranked running back Trevor Etienne, the No. 15-rated running back in the class of 2022 who has the Gators in his top-3 alongside LSU and Clemson. 

Etienne, whose brother, Travis, starred at Clemson before being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, will take an official visit to the program in the coming weeks before announcing his commitment Jan. 8. 

Napier and Juluke also visited with Lake Charles (La.) College Prep standout TreVonte Citizen, a top-100 prospect and one of the top-5 players from Louisiana according to On3Sports’ prospect rankings. It’s uncertain who before Dec. 15 will follow Napier in committing to the Florida program, but he’s already living up to one promise of his opening statement: prioritizing evaluation from the jump. 

The next step? Bringing the relentless effort on the trail to the state of Florida. 

“I'm extremely excited to get to work. I think it's important that we all understand we're going to do this one day at a time,” Napier said. “And we're going to do it one person at a time.”

Gasparilla Bowl

Who: Florida (6-6) vs. UCF (8-4)

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 23

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Tickets: https://www.gasparillabowl.com/tickets/

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